The year 2020 has truly been unlike any other, and the Union County athletic landscape has had its share of notable sports news across the most notable year in recent memory.
The Enquirer-Journal is highlighting 10 of the top stories involving Union County athletics over the past year.
County sweeps 3A indoor track titles
In February, both Cuthbertson’s girls and Weddington’s boys took home 3A indoor track and field state titles. The Cavaliers captured their fourth straight girls championship under head coach Dustin Allen, while the Weddington boys won their third straight title under head coach Rick Spencer.
The Cuthbertson girls set a new 3A state meet record with 106.5 points. The Cavaliers were led by their relay teams, which took first in the 4x200 and 4x400 relay races. Cuthbertson sophomore Ava Studney also captured an individual state title in the pole vault after clearing a height of 11 feet.
Weddington’s boys had three individual state champions: Seniors Jake Toomey, Alec Mock and Nick Callis took home state titles in the 1,600-meter run, shot put and pole vault, respectively.
Jackets 23-0 in regular seasonAfter finishing the regular season a perfect 23-0, the Forest Hills boys basketball team almost made it back to its third straight 2A state championship game.
The Yellow Jackets won their two conference tournament games by 15-plus points before opening the 3A state playoffs with a 30-point win over Pisgah. After a nail-biter in the second round over Salisbury, head coach Matt Sides’ team rattled off two more victories before falling to Shelby, 68-63, in the western regional finals. Forest Hills finished 29-1.
COVID-19’s markWhile the first positive COVID-19 case in the United States was reported in January, its effects weren’t felt around the county until March.
On March 13, Union County Public Schools announced that all athletic activities would be suspended until April 6. That delay ended up lasting through the summer and into the fall as the COVID-19 pandemic spread across the country.
Spring seasons affected by the athletic hiatus were baseball, softball, girls soccer, boys and girls lacrosse and track and field.
Kuehler throws no-hitterWhile the baseball season barely got off the ground, local teams were still able to get a few games in before COVID-19 suspended the season. In that short time, Cuthbertson senior Cade Kuehler put on a performance worth remembering on March 10 against Weddington, tossing a no-hitter while striking out 11 and going 1-for-3 at the plate with an RBI in a 3-0 win.
Prior to to the athletic suspension, Kuehler was 2-0 with a 0.67 ERA and 12 strikeouts while hitting .400 at the plate with six RBI on just four hits.
Shipley commits to ClemsonWhile the COVID-19 pandemic pushed back his decision, Weddington star running back Will Shipley announced during the first week of May that he was committing to play college football at Clemson starting in 2021.
Shipley (5-11, 200 pounds) is the only 5-star football recruit in the history of Union County. Shipley was ranked as the No. 1 all-purpose running back and No. 30 overall player in the Class of 2021, according to 247Sports.
In three seasons, Shipley ran for 4,147 yards and accounted for 80 touchdowns while leading the Warriors to two straight 3AA state championships. As a senior in 2019, Shipley ran for 2,040 yards and set a new county record with 42 total touchdowns in a season.
Coaching changesEarlier in the year, former Cuthbertson boys basketball head coach and athletic director Mike Helms stepped down, but it wouldn’t take long before Helms got the itch to coach basketball in the county again.
In early July, Parkwood announced that Helms would start coaching the Wolf Pack beginning with the 2021 season. Helms graduated from Parkwood in 1978 and spent some time previously as head coach for the team earlier in the millennium.
Helms was the only coach in Cuthbertson’s 11-year history. He’ll return to face his old team, and former assistant coach Chris Caputi, for the first time when their teams play in Waxhaw on Jan. 22.
Prep sports postponedAfter months of deliberation, the North Carolina High School Athletic Association announced on Aug. 12 that the 2020 football season would be pushed back to the spring of 2021, while the 2020-21 basketball season would take place exclusively in 2021.
The NCHSAA announced new start dates for both sports — basketball on Jan. 4 and football on Feb. 26 — while simultaneously announcing that both sports would play conference only schedules.
McCall nation’s top freshman QBOne of the most surprising developments of 2020 was the rocket-like ascendance of former Porter Ridge quarterback Grayson McCall during his redshirt freshman season for the Coastal Carolina football team.
Starting for the first time in his college career, McCall opened up the season by accounting for five touchdowns (three passing, two rushing) in Coastal’s win over Kansas to open the season. He went on to lead the Chanticleers to their first-ever Sun Belt Conference title as well as the program’s first bowl game and top-10 ranking in program history.
Sun Valley’s rise in volleyballMany around the county before the season started likely assumed that Marvin Ridge’s volleyball team would run away with the Southern Carolina Conference title once again, but that’s not the way things have played out so far this year.
Heading into 2021, the Sun Valley volleyball team has far and away been the class of the county this season. The Spartans are 11-0 and own a three-match lead in the SCC standings with only three matches to play.
The highlight of the Spartans’ season so far was a 3-1 victory at Marvin Ridge on Dec. 3. The win marked Sun Valley’s first in 28 career matches with the Mavericks.
Realignment’s impact on UCIn early December, the NCHSAA announced its initial recommendations for classification and conference realignment beginning with the 2021-22 school year, and there are plenty of changes coming to Union County schools that will affect the athletic landscape over the next four years.
Five county schools — Sun Valley, Piedmont, Marvin Ridge, Weddington and Cuthbertson — will move to 4A in 2021-22 and will join Porter Ridge to make an all-Union County six-team conference starting next school year.
Parkwood will remain at 3A, while Central Academy is set to join them after spending the past four years at 2A. Both schools will be part of a mixed 2A/3A conference that includes Forest Hills and Monroe. Union Academy will remain at the 1A level but will now play in a conference that also features 2A schools from the surrounding area.